ATHENS, Ga. -- If he could, Jarvis Jones would pen one giant thank you note to the entire state of Georgia.
It’s a gesture that would be well received, although an All-SEC season at linebacker would be even better received.
Jones, who initially decided to leave the state and attend Southern California out of high school after a fierce recruiting battle, says he’s back where he belongs. He jokes that he’s just relieved that they would let him back into the state.
“I’m thankful every day that I’ve been here, that coach (Mark) Richt would give me an opportunity, that the university would give me another opportunity, that the state would let me come back home,” said Jones, who has three years of eligibility remaining and will step in next season at strongside linebacker.
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham says there’s no question that the 6-3, 245-pound Jones gives the Bulldogs an element they were missing at linebacker last season.
“He could play inside if we needed him to, but he’ll make more plays outside,” Grantham said. “Justin (Houston) was a better pass-rusher. But as linebackers go and playing the linebacker position, we didn’t play with anybody like Jarvis last year.”
For that matter, there were times on the scout team last season when his teammates say he was the best player on the field.
“He’s always energized, always enthusiastic, always hyped and running to the ball on every play,” senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “A lot of people are going to feed off of him, and he’s definitely somebody who’s going to come in and change the game.”
As ironies go, it was an injury during his freshman season at USC that led Jones back to Georgia.
He suffered what USC doctors said was a pinched nerve in his neck during the 2009 season and missed the final five games. The USC doctors wouldn’t clear him medically to play again for the Trojans.
Jones sought opinions from other doctors, who said that he would be able to play again after rest and rehabilitation. But the USC doctors wouldn’t relent.
“I was young, and the only thing I was thinking about was football,” recalled Jones, who’s from Columbus, Ga. “I was so far away from home, and the only reason I came to L.A was to play football. All of a sudden, they’re telling me I can’t play anymore.
“I felt like I’d had everything snatched from me, especially with three other doctors telling me I could play, I still had some fire in my heart and never gave up.”
Jones left USC last June and returned home. He wasn’t sure where he was going to play again. He just knew that he would play again.
It was about that time that Jones’ high school coach informed him that Georgia was interested.
“I know a lot of people were mad that I didn’t come here in the first place,” Jones said. “But the way they opened their doors and accepted me like I was fresh out of high school tells you a lot about this school and the people here.
“They took me through all the different tests when I visited, and coach Richt was right beside me the whole way. I told him, ‘This is where I want to be. I want to be a Bulldog.’”
Jones admits that he’s probably more of a natural at inside linebacker, and that’s where he played at USC.
But he also trusts Grantham implicitly and has seen what outside linebackers have done in his system.
“Watching how he developed Justin and other guys is something I want to be a part of,” Jones said. “I know I can be a great player, especially with a coach like coach Grantham. I know he’s going to push me and put me in the best position for me to excel and help this team.
“The main thing is that I’m just glad to be here. Maybe it’s late, but I plan making the best of what I have left.”